The Remaining Cruiser Ferries of Cebu Port

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The cruiser era is near to drawing to a close in the Philippines, maybe. Cruisers might hold on to Zamboanga but I don’t know anywhere else. In the Port of Cebu they might have been gone now except for three hold-outs, the Lapu-lapu Shipping, Gabisan Shipping and South Pacific Transport which don’t operate ROROs. But recent rumor say Gabisan will sell one of its cruisers, either the Gloria Two or Gloria Three and in its place will come the former Maharlika Cinco of Archipelago Philippine Ferries which supposedly will become the Gloria V in their fleet. This ferry is now undergoing renovation and refitting in Leyte and she is a big one. Seems Gabisan Shipping also wants a slice of the growing rolling cargo traffic to Leyte using Hilongos port.

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The cruiser ferries of Lapu-lapu Shipping, the Lapu-lapu Ferry 1, Lapu-lapu Ferry 8 and Rosalia 3 are really fighting very hard. From simple tejeras they now have bunks and even a Tourist section. They have been pressured by the coming of Montenegro Shipping Lines to Cataingan, Masbate, their old staple but they did not budge. They are even pressured more in Baybay City by Roble Shipping. They have already withdrawn from the Villaba, Leyte route. As cruisers they have nowhere to go; they have to dig in their heels and try to survive all the onslaughts.

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The five cruiser ships of Lapu-lapu Shipping and Gabisan Shipping are all bunched up between Pier 2 and Pier 3 of Cebu port and many times they dock diagonally to save up on limited wharf space. Sometimes they are joined by a Gemini ship of Isla de Bantayan Shipping. But these Geminis are not really passenger-cargo ships.

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Also still present in Cebu port are the two cruiser ferries of South Pacific Transport, the South Pacific and Fiji-II which have a route to Bato, Leyte. These ships are known that will never give up because they are owned by Fortune ShipWorks, a shipyard in Tayud which has also a freighter company and will live as long as the owners want them.

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Docking not far from the seven is the VG 1 (and the former Andy Two) of VG Shipping which has a route to Talibon, Bohol. This lady is an old survivor from being the Princess of Samar of the defunct Western Samar Shipping Lines and as the Princess Joan of the defunct Georgia Shipping Lines. I don’t know right now if she was the former Joan Glory of the defunct Glory Shipping Lines. She is re-engined with Weichai from Dynamic Power now so it means she will still be around for a while.

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I am not sure if the Super Island Express II of Island Shipping has already quit or was replaced. She is also a cruiser ferry and has a route to Tubigon, Bohol. Once upon a time Island Shipping has a big presence in the Tubigon route until slowly they were pushed by the ROROs of Lite Ferries and the cruisers of Jadestar Shipping which are gone now, which surrendered the fight when they realized their cruisers cannot match the ROROs of Lite Ferries and the fastcrafts of Star Crafts.

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I don’t know if Island Shipping will attempt a comeback. They have enough ROPAX LCTs now. They even sold their Island RORO II which they should have used to hold their Tubigon route, in my view. This became the VG RORO II of VG Shipping.

Rose Shipping/V. Atilano with its cruiser ferries is now gone too. And to think in its heyday they have been involved in wars across the Camotes Sea versus the Aboitiz Shipping Corporation which is also gone now. What a sad end and it seems it is only their April Rose and Yellow Rose which has survived in other hands. However, only Yellow Rose is remaining in Cebu but not sailing. Her last duty was as restaurant-tour ship with the name Lady of the Gate of JJA Transport.

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Aside from Jadestar Shipping, another recent casualty which quit was the Roly Shipping/Godspeed Shipping/Ernesto Alvarado combine. I thought they will survive somehow as they have a more diversified route system (Leyte and Bohol) but I heard there were internal difficulties and one day they were just gone like Jadestar. Their Roly-1 capsized in a shipyard and their Tagbilaran Ferry and Mega Asiana were cannibalized in Star Marine Shipyard in Tayud, Cebu and are technically dead ships.

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Maypalad Shipping meanwhile had a very slow death. Their tied-up ships in Mactan Channel disappeared slowly over several years but as of last count two freighters are still there and their Samar Star is still in Star Marine Shipyard but this is an early generation RORO. Their Guiuan, however was a cruiser ferry. It is now gone.

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Another solitary cruiser that is still tied up is the Ormoc Star of Roble Shipping which is still in Pier 7 but it seems it is no longer in sailing condition. A few years ago, the Melrivic Ten which has a route to Poro, Camotes also quit and was sold to shipping company that has a Cuyo route from Manila. Melrivic Nine has quit the Toledo-San Carlos route and is laid up in Dunggo-an, Danao City. I wonder if owner Aznar Shipping will want to use her revive their Cebu-Poro route.

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So Cebu Port has just some ten cruiser ferries surviving now but not all are in sailing condition and some might be technically dead ships now (intact but no longer capable of sailing). There are however cruiser ferries on the western side of Cebu island under the hands of Island Shipping and PAR Transport. Those are still sailing.

Take your views and pictures of them now. Who knows if they will still be around in a decade’s time. For sure, when they go, there will no longer be cruiser replacements. The replacements, if ever there will be any, will for sure be ROROs. If not, LCTs which are booming now.

This is a tribute to them. I cannot say “Long live” because I know they will be gone in a few years time. For sure.

The Samar Star

In 2011, members of the Philippine Ship Spotters Society (PSSS) doing ship spotting by the Cansaga Bay bridge were excited because it seemed the lengthy drydock of Samar Star in Star Marine Shipyard by the that bay was already finished. She was already repainted and from afar it looked like the passenger accommodations were also spiffed up. The members of PSSS were all wishing that Maypalad Shipping Corporation can still get back to sailing. That shipping society is on the sentimental side like most Pinoys and it wishes that the ships they know will sail on forever, if that wer only possible. The members were sad that the Maypalad Shipping fleet including its cargo ships was just anchored and tied up in Mactan Channel since 2009. Samar Star was the only one not tied up there and it seems she was the last one sailing among the fleet. However, another ship of theirs, the Cabalian Star was already a long time “resident” of Philippine Trigon Shipyard Corporation in San Fernando, Cebu.

Samar Star together with a trio of true sister ships of Maypalad Shipping, the Leyte Star, Cebu Star and Kalibo Star is a unique kind of ferry. Her hull and superstructure very much looks like a cargo ship but she is equipped with a quarter RORO ramp in the port side and she has a car deck. Even in Japan her classification was not as a cargo ship but as a RORO Ferry. It looks like her role there is that of a vehicle carrier with a limited, basic passenger accommodation and used as a short-distance RORO ferry. In the Philippines, to increase her passenger capacity, a passenger deck was built over her car deck.

With the lines and superstructure of a cargo ship, the Samar Star is not by any means a looker. Some will even say she is downright ugly. Most people, after all don’t find the design and lines of small general cargo ships to be beautiful and Samar Star very much resembles that type. However, this ship has a story and a history.

Samar Star was first known as the Samar Queen when she arrived in the Philippines in 1980. As a RORO ship, she was one of the earliest in the country although at first glance she might not look like one. Even me when I first saw this kind of ship of Maypalad Shipping thought she was just a converted cargo ship until I saw her classification in Miramar Ship Index as RORO Ferry.

She was the first RORO ship of the K&T Shipping Lines, as Maypalad Shipping Corporation was known then. The ships of K&T Shipping were named “Queens” then and so she was Samar Queen. Later, they were named as “Stars” but not all as their ferry Guiuan remained the Guiuan. Their cargo ships also carried the “Stars” name. K&T Shipping Lines changed their name to Maypalad Shipping Corporation when the ferry Kalibo Star, their flagship, capsized and sank early one afternoon in the heavy swells of Samar Sea near Biliran island on August 15, 1997 with the loss of many lives.

In Japan, Samar Star was known as the Asaka Maru of the shipping line Saito Kaiun KK. This ship was built by Wakamatsu Shipbuilding in Kitakyushu, Fukuoka Prefecture, Japan in 1968 and she carried the IMO Number 6817089. She measured 56.6 meters in length over-all (LOA) with 9.1 meters in extreme breadth (this is akin to the measurements of an “FS” ship). The ship has an original gross register tonnage (GRT) of 482 and deadweight tonnage (DWT) of 203. The Asaka Maru was powered by a single 1,300-horsepower Nippatsu (Fuji) engine which propelled her to a top speed of 11 knots.

In the Philippines, aside from the passenger deck constructed above the car deck a portion of the car deck was also converted for passenger use and fitted with bunks like the passenger deck above. This is so because her primary function in the Philippines was as passenger carrier and carrying vehicles was just a sometime load. The rear or aft portion of the car deck was being used more as a cargo deck for loose cargo. The authorized maximum passenger load of the ship is 280 persons. Whereas in Japan her gross tonnage was 482 that went down to 233 when scantling and a passenger deck was added to her. The MARINA “magic meter” seemed to be at work on her.

K&T Shipping/Maypalad Shipping operated a diverse set of routes from Cebu like routes to Tacloban, Naval (Biliran), Sogod, Liloan, Cabalian (all in Southern Leyte) and even San Jose which was then in Surigao del Norte. They also operated a Guiuan (Eastern Samar)-Tacloban route. I have not confirmed if they operated a Samar or Aklan route before but the names of their ships indicated that. None of their routes seemed to be particularly successful for a long time.

One reason perhaps for this is the type and quality of the ships they were using. Equipped with freighter engines and freighter engine ratings they were not speedy even when new. And so they suffered from the faster competition especially in the longer overnight routes when their ships can’t arrive before breakfast. Aside from that their passenger accommodations are more on the spartan side and cannot compare with or compete with contemporaries. Sometimes, it is also a disadvantage if a ship has no airconditioned accommodations. And early on they were just furnished with foldable cots or tejeras in the local languages.

Later on their routes were unfortunately torpedoed by paradigm changes. With the improvement of the land transport system, slowly the routes to Samar and Tacloban wilted when passengers learned how to use the western Leyte ports and the cheap, unticketed rides offered by the buses from Manila (this practice is extra income or kita-kita by the driver-conductors of the buses and unofficially allowed by the bus companies). The Tacloban route lost heavily to Ormoc port as the ship plus bus/van combination of the latter was cheaper and faster and arrives before breakfast.

The Sogod, Liloan and Cabalian routes also began losing to the ship plus bus/van combination emanating from Hilongos and Bato ports which was cheaper, arrives sooner and was reliable as it is connected to the shipping companies serving those ports. Sogod and Liloan voyages arrive late but the Cabalian route will really test one’s stomach. Again, the lack of engine power and speed of the Maypalad Shipping ships jeopardized them as their ships cannot speed up to compensate for the longer distances of their routes. A ship capable of doing only 11 knots when new in Japan can only be expected to sail at 9 knots here max and on longer routes that simply is not enough.

San Jose in Dinagat island as a destination was a dead duck too as the ship going there would already arrive in the afternoon and that is challenging for the passengers both in patience and in their sustenance. The Cokaliong ship will easily beat them even though the passengers have to transfer in Surigao because at least they can partake of breakfast outside the port gates. Meanwhile, all the Guiuan-Tacloban ships simply lost when the new direct highway from Basey, Samar to Guiuan was finally built and the buses, vans and trucks began rolling.

By the time these challenges of paradigm changes happened it seemed Maypalad Shipping was already weakened financially and they can no longer refleet. They also can’t bring their ships to ports serviced by competition as they were simply outgunned. At this time their ships were already a decade older than competition’s reckoned from the time they arrived here in the Philippines. So, one by one Maypalad Shipping stopped sailing from their routes as they were losing. It seems the last route they were holding was the Cebu-Liloan route and Samar Star was the holder of that route (there they were using the Liloan municipal port). When Maypalad Shipping drydocked the Samar Star they did not field a replacement ship anymore.

After being tied up for five years in Star Marine Shipyard, the fresh coat of paint of Samar Star in 2011 is now peeling off and rust is already beginning to grow in her hull. The tarpaulin covering of the passenger deck is now cracked and the state of her bridge and engine machinery is now questionable at best. As an untended ship built in 1968 she must now be in an advanced graying state. Meanwhile, her fleet mates in Mactan Channel are now disappearing one by one through breaking.

I wish Samar Star will live on but that might just be a wish that cannot be fulfilled.

The MV Nikki (a.k.a. MV Lady of All Nations)

When the deadly-for-shipping decade of the 1980’s ended (technically, it ended only at the end of 1990), we still had a few former FS ships sailing. Maybe it was because we really lacked ships them and getting loans was really difficult and interest rates were very high. Maybe, the penchant of Filipinos to squeeze the last ounce of life from mechanical things was also a factor. We are also sentimental in letting go of things that have served us for so long.

One of the last former FS ships still sailing then was the MV Edward of William Lines. The ship was running the short Manila-Tilik (Lubang Island) and Manila-San Jose (Occidental Mindoro) routes. She is running this route but at times it is another former FS ship, the MV Don Jose I, which is in that route. However, it is the MV Edward which is remembered more in the big town of San Jose. She was actually the last on the route, too. This route is a steel-hulled ferry monopoly at that time by William Lines Inc. after other liner companies withdrew or were gone from shipping. They were also able to block the entry of a new competitor. Beside the steel-hulled ferry there were also wooden motor boats (the batel) plying the route but they concentrated on cargo and do not have very regular schedules (it will depend on how full they were and also on the weather).

In 1992, with the coming of the new administration of President Fidel V. Ramos and his call for shipping modernization, there seems to be a sudden realization by the shipping companies still sailing former FS ships that they finally have to go. There were just a few former FS ships still sailing then and their lives were prolonged by retiring other FS ships and cannibalizing them for parts. Their ranks was also further diminished by the very strong Typhoon “Mike” (Typhoon “Ruping”) that visited Cebu in November 1990 which was very deadly for Cebu shipping.

Instead of acquiring a new ship for the Manila-Tilik and Manila-San Jose routes, William Lines instead decided to withdraw from the route. But, instead of holding on to their residual rights on the route, William Lines instead welcomed and helped a successor in the person of Dr. Segundo Moreno who was previously not in shipping. Dr. Moreno established the shipping company Moreta Shipping Lines and he purchased the MV Ariake Maru No. 6 from Japan. With this changeover, San Jose and Tilik was able to re-establish their regular connection to Manila. This was important as they were dependent on the national capital for manufactured goods and Divisoria and Navotas were the main markets for their agricultural and sea products.

Unlike the former FS ships, MV Ariake Maru No. 6 is a RORO (Roll-on, Roll Off) which means she can load vehicles. Even when used in break-bulk cargo, her main use, a RORO is easier to load and unload and forklifts ease the operation especially in handling heavier cargo. It also means a RORO is less dependent for the services of manual laborers, the porters. MV Ariake Maru No. 6 was actually not bigger than the former FS ship she was replacing but a RORO has a taller cargo deck.

MV Ariake Maru No. 6 has the permanent ID IMO 7632307. She was built by Hayashikane Shipbuilding & Engineering Company in their Nagasaki shipyard in Japan in 1977 for Ariake Ferry. She measured 54.0 meters by 12.8 meters with a Gross Tonnage (GT) of 695, which are all about the same as an FS ship. However, her DWT (Deadweight Tonnage) of 284 tons was way less than the 711 tons of MV Edward, a lengthened FS ship measuring 62.9 meters by 9.8 meters. She was equipped with two Niigata diesel engines with a total of 2,400 horsepower. Her original top speed in Japan was 13.5 knots.

Arriving for Moreta Shipping Lines, she was renamed the MV Nikki and she was converted into an overnight ferry equipped with bunks with a local passenger capacity of 440. She was two-class ship: an airconditioned Tourist with free linen and pillow and a better toilet and bath and an open-air Economy with no free “beddings” (linen). She was considered by her passengers to be more comfortable than the former FS ships she was replacing. As to speed, she was not faster than the former FS ships which only had less than ½ of her engine power at 1,000 horsepower.

Maybe her lack of speed was due to what I heard that she has a spoon hull. That means the design of her hull is similar to a bathtub. Maybe in Japan she was only used for very short-distance routes where the shape of the hull will not matter. Incidentally, this hull is similar to the hull of the barges and LCTs. Assigned to the 120-nautical mile Manila-San Jose route she can’t meet the promised 12-hour sailing time especially when swells are around. Two years after fielding, she settled on a 14-hour sailing time for her route. So sailing at 6pm means a stomach already looking for food once one disembarks.

In Moreta Shipping Lines, the Tilik and San Jose routes destinations were also split into separate routes. However, when the MV Kimelody Cristy arrived for Moreta Shipping Lines in 1994, MV Nikki became a dedicated Tilik (Lubang) ship. There her lack of speed did not matter as Lubang island is just a short distance from Manila. A 10pm departure to that port is already assured of a dawn arrival. 

Moreta Shipping Lines and MV Nikki did good sailing for about a decade or so. But in due time, their Mindoro routes were slowly taken over by the intermodal trucks and buses that was using the short Batangas-Abra de Ilog (Occidental Mindoro) route. As always, the advantage of the intermodal were 24-hour departures and direct delivery to the particular towns or barrios. With such changes, Moreta Lines had to develop other routes and they tried the Panay island routes abandoned by WG&A. But soon, they found out there was nothing much left there and the intermodal was already ascendant there, too.

The staple route of Manila-Tilik by MV Nikki was affected in another way. Slowly, the motor banca to Lubang from Nasugbu in Batangas became a competitor. With a combined bus and banca, daytime trips became possible with direct disembarkation (unlike the RORO which only dock in Tilik port). The syndrome was much like how the motor banca drove out the RORO in Puerto Galera. Tilik port is not located in either town of Lubang or Looc and the local road was not good either.

By the last half of the 2010’s, the ships of Moreta Lines were barely sailing. At times, only one of their three ferries might be sailing. Reading the writing on the wall, they started cargo shipping in 2009. Not long after, they decided to get out of passenger shipping altogether, sold their passenger ships and used the proceeds to acquire more cargo ships. They then became a pure cargo shipping line (this trying to survive as a shipping line was one characteristic missing in their benefactor William Lines Inc. which decided to go down quietly).

MV Nikki came to Medallion Transport in 2012 which was soon followed by the MV Love-1 of Moreta Shipping Lines also. The two ships were used by Medallion Transport to develop new Medallion routes between Cebu and Leyte together with two other ships (always less one because one is used in Masbate). In Medallion Transport, the MV Nikki was renamed to MV Lady of All Nations and she was used to grab traffic from a competitor in the Cebu-Bato route. Medallion Transport was already sailing this route before but they were just shoehorning short-distance ferries in this overnight route (it has also day trip on the reverse). With the fielding of MV Lady of All Nations, Medallion Transport finally had a true overnight ship in this route, their pioneer route to Cebu from their original home port of Bato, Leyte.

MV Lady of All Nations is still the Medallion Transport mainstay in the Cebu-Bato route. The competition is suffering because it is using single-class cruisers (admittedly, they are faster, however). Meanwhile, Medallion Transport retrofitted MV Lady of All Nations to have Cabin class and Deluxe class (which approximates the Suite class). So, she is now a four-class ship. Five, if the Sitting Economy, a Cebu-Leyte and Cebu-Bohol fixture is included. Her fares starts at P245 per person which is very cheap for a 55-nautical mile distance. Actually, the Cebu-Bato route is known for having the cheapest fares between Cebu and Leyte. The Tourist fare of Ormoc will actually be already Cabin class in MV Lady of All Nations.

In her last drydock in 2014, two years after coming to Medallion Transport, the MV Lady of All Nations spent some time in Star Marine Shipyard in the shipyard row of Cebu in Tayud off Cansaga Bay and the one nearest to the Cansaga bridge. I heard included in the works done in her were upgrading in the engines. It seems it showed as after the drydocking, the MV Lady of All Nations became a faster ship.

She does two departures in a day and this means much more revenues for a medium-distance regional ferry. As such, she approximates in the a day a sailing distance from Cebu to the likes of Surigao, Dapitan, Dipolog, Iloilo, Masbate, Calbayog or Catbalogan. At nighttime, she leaves Cebu for Bato arriving there at dawn. She leaves at mid-morning in Bato to arrive in Cebu at mid-afternoon. She is the favorite there since she a bigger and more comfortable ship than her competition.

It seems it will be a long time before the competition will come out with a ship that will displace her in the Cebu-Bato route. Her main competition are actually the slightly better ships to Hilongos, another port north of Bato and on a parallel competing route to Cebu-Bato route. Maybe that was the reason why Cabin and Deluxe were added to her since the ships in Hilongos have Cabins and Suites. However, with slightly lower fares and the advantage of a shorter distance to the Southern Leyte towns, she has competitive advantages of her own. And with the short distance to Leyte her speed is not that much of an issue and being nearer to the farther destination then that cancels out the speed disadvantage (but this is not applicable to a very slow ship of a competitor in the Hilongos route, a cousin of theirs).

Acquiring her seems to be a genius stroke for Medallion Transport. She is a definite asset for the company. What a definite change of fortune by being a castaway in another route that lost (well, that is also true for MV Lady of Love – an advanced preview)!

Photo Credit: James Gabriel Verallo